Nuclear power holds promise for Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa’s need for power is great as most people in the continent do not have access to electricity.

Most citizens, especially rural dwellers, rely heavily on traditional fuel such as wood and cow dung for cooking and lighting.   According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), an international organisation that seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, about 620 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live without electricity – nearly two-thirds of the region’s population – and close to 730 million rely on traditional biomass, like wood.

Viktor Polikarpov, regional vice president in Sub-Saharan Africa for Russian nuclear firm, Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom) points out that:

“About 600 million people do not have access to power out of an 800 million population. The total energy capacity of sub-Saharan Africa is about 28 Gigawatts which is the equivalent of just one country like Argentina.”

The Agenda 2063, a continental framework adopted by the African Union in 2013 to ensure the continent is able to fully exploit and use its resources for the benefits of its people, adds: “Only 30 per cent of the population in Africa has access to electricity, compared to70 to 90 per cent in other parts of the developing world.

“In terms of other forms of energy, about 80 per cent of Africa depends on biomass energy for cooking, mostly using inefficient traditional stoves leading to serious impacts on health and mortality.”

With its energy deficit, the continent, sadly, is still to exploit nuclear power – the use of nuclear reactors to release nuclear energy, and thereby generate electricity.

Alexander Ochs, director of Climate and Energy at the Worldwatch Institute – a globally focused environmental research organisation, is of the same opinion.

“Of all the mainstream technology sources – renewable, fossil fuels, conventional, unconventional – of all the sources, the only one with negative growth is nuclear power,” said Ochs, a well-known expert on international climate and energy policy.

Accordingly, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa must uncompromisingly make nuclear power part of its energy mix so as to effectively meet their energy demands.

Shout-Africa, an African news platform, also says Africa needs nuclear power since accessible coal is running out.

“With coal running out and all rivers dammed, nuclear power is absolutely inevitable and essential for the continent of Africa. Nuclear power holds the promise for Africa,” noted Shout-Africa.

Nuclear physicist Kelvin Kemm, Chief Executive Officer of Nuclear Africa, adds: “We have got to put power all over Africa. Nuclear is the answer to Africa’s energy questions. It is the safest, cleanest source of power.”

Polikarpov also shares same views, saying Africa needs nuclear power to increase the uptake of clean energy in addition to addressing some of its energy challenges.

“Today 60 per cent of the population is living in countries with nuclear power. By the end of 2035, about 71 per cent of the global population will be having nuclear power plants.

“Therefore, African countries must follow the global trend and welcome nuclear energy as a reality if the continent is to boost its power generation,” he said.

During the Third Conference on Energy and Nuclear Power in Africa – Assessing African Energy Needs and Planning for the Future, organised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Kenya recently, Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA deputy director-general and head of the department of Nuclear Energy said: “Access to secure, sustainable and affordable energy is of prime importance for social and economic development.

“From the provision of clean water to having efficient healthcare services, almost every facet of modern life requires access to dependable and sustainable energy.

“African countries, therefore, need to make nuclear power part of their energy mix if they want attain socio-economic development goals.”

Sadly, South Africa is the only country in the whole continent that generates electricity from nuclear power.

According to the World Nuclear Association – an international organisation that promotes nuclear power and supports many companies that comprise the global nuclear industry, countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Namibia, Sudan, Uganda and Namibia are actively considering nuclear power programmes.

These countries need to look to South Africa to see the challenges that may lie ahead, and they must at least start with targeting smaller nuclear power plants as they are not only less expensive, but easier to build.

Daniel S Lipman, Nuclear Energy Institute’s executive director, Policy Development and Supplier Programmes, concurs.

“There is an opportunity for using smaller nuclear power plants to power national, regional and continental grid development. This means smaller nuclear power plants like small modular reactors that can be located in more remote areas,” noted Lipman.

Conversely, the continent needs adequate commitment, effective policy and regulatory frameworks as well as attractive markets for investment to effectively integrate nuclear power in its energy mix. It also needs people with high technical skills.

On the other hand, Polikarpov believes that introducing nuclear energy in the region is not without challenges.

“The environment is not ‘friendly’ because of negative perceptions about nuclear energy. Accordingly, African governments, policy makers and key development partners need to demystify nuclear and bring a lot of public awareness,” he acknowledged.

Nuclear power also requires a lot of capital during the early stages.

Private as well as public sectors should, thus, support government sectors through funding, and governments must create conducive environments that promote win-win situations between involved parties.

“Nuclear power plants are expensive to build but they are the cheapest to run. Therefore, private and public sectors need to support governments,” explained Xolisa Mabhongo, the Corporate Services Group Executive of the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (NESCA).

With its diverse population, Africa deserves an energy mix that is also diverse. For that reason, clean and potent nuclear power should be part of that mix.

The Agenda 2063 sums it up: “Africa has significant and diversified energy resources in hydropower, solar power, wind energy, geothermal, bioenergy, nuclear energy and fossil fuels and these could form the basis for setting up businesses in the energy sector.

“There is, therefore, need for the continent to develop vibrant policies and make nuclear part of its energy mix so as to ensure proceeds from natural resources are used to effectively develop the continent.”

May 2015
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